Book 1 : Sacred Warriors
copyright©2015 Zorin Florr
After launching like a rocket from the brutal impact, the pilot's bubble is now falling fast. It drops out of sight behind the north edge of the outcrop. Throuhg a cloud of dust, the last of the crash debris are now raining down hard on the heads of the spectators. They're scrambling back and forth struggling to get out of the way, but there is no out of the way on top of that outcrop and many get hit. Plenty of cuts and bruises but none are seriously injured, even as some large chunks crash loudly in between them.
The rain of debris comes to a quick end. With the settling dust most of the crowd rushes to the north edge of the outcrop. Andee leaps from the stone lounge while Mykee leans over the edge and watches. He rushes down and into the crowd forcefully elbowing through the people heading for the north edge.
"There! There! I can see it. I can see him!" Random people shout. Andee breaks through the tight crowd stopping precariously close, and leans over the edge. He immediately sees the bubble. It's stuck in a crevice between a sheer stone face and a small stone ledge. The large outcrop he's on juts out at about 900 meters above flat ground, on the West side of the vertical pillar-like Table mountain. The bubble is about a third of the way down, at the point where the crumbly and chunky rocky slope ends, and sheer vertical walls of the mesa begin. No lightship or wheeled vehicle can get up there. Medical lightships approach from below but have no way of reaching the bubble. The Bitani rescue corps would have to climb the 600 or so meters on foot, but the slope is too steep and jagged for them and their medical equipment. Only professional climbers would have a chance up that ever increasing slope. A few rescue corps head on foot anyway, and slowly start making their way up the mountain.
Andee studies the gleaming obsidian black bubble. There is a huge crack nearly splitting it in two. It looks like a cracked shiny black egg. A bloody hand suddenly comes out through the crack and grabs one of the split sides.
"Help!" The pilot's faint shout echoes from below.
"That's the pilot! He's hurt!" People in the crowd respond frantic, not knowing what to do.
Gono is a few meters away. He sees Andee and starts pushing through towards him.
"Andee! Hey!" Gono shouts and Andee turns to him. Mykee above, watches leaning out of his perch.
"I don't think they can help him, and he's hurt." Gono speaks pointing to the three rescue corps struggling on foot up the jagged and steep rocky cliff. At the rate they're moving it could take them hours to get to the pilot.
"It's been a while since I climbed these rocks." Andee responds after looking down at the struggling rescue corps.
"Dude, you're not thinking what I think your thinking?"
"I've climbed this side of the mountain before."
"Yeah, for fun. You weren't rushing to save someone's life."
"I've got to do it man. I have to. I'm the only one here that can."
"I don't know man. Are you sure about this?" Andee gives Gono a look of; 'Do I have a choice?' "Alright man. I know I can't talk you out of it, but be careful." Gono counters with a look of concern. "I know you can do this. I've seen what you can do." Gono continues this time strengthening his eyes to exude an air of confidence in support of his friend.
Andee nods, and then without warning... just leaps... right off the edge. Groans and moans echo from the crowd at the unexpected move. Gono follows the jump with his eyes. Leaning forward over the edge, he catches a glimpse of Andee landing on a shallow rim of stone barely wide enough for his tip-toes. It's an act of true skill. Andee is about to show off his talent.
"Don't worry guys, don't worry. This guy is a master at Ghimpour. Watch and be amazed." Gono shouts at the crowd to calm their growing concern.
"I hope for his sake. Or he'll die before the pilot." Some guy in the crowd responds.
"Trust me. If you've been to the Ghimpour games than you've seen him. His name is Andee, he won last year."
The crowd quiets down. They can finally see Andee. Truly like one of the native little Leaping Ghimurs that live on that rocky slope, Andee is not just climbing down the cliff, he is literally hopping, jumping, and swinging from edges and corners of stone just barely big enough to grasp. His agility and hand strength is astounding. The pilot is momentarily forgotten as a new act is on show, Andee leaping, running, skipping, from hands to feet, twisting, twirling, and even flipping from one to the next of the smallest cracks, crevices, and ledges that the mountain side has too offer. Everyone watches in awe as Andee makes fast progress down the near vertical section of this mountain.
In a few minutes he reaches the bubble. It's mostly intact except for the big crack. Two of the four shock absorbers, between the bubble and chairs, are broken, and seem to have caused the crack, or vice versa. The pilot's left hand is out, gripping tight at the split edge of the bubble. His hand is covered in blood, but there isn't much blood anywhere else. The pilot still has his helmet on. Andee tries to split open the bubble by pulling it apart with his arms, but it's pointless. The material is flexible, even soft to the touch, yet as strong as steel. It does give slightly along the line of the crack, but will not break.
"Hey! Can you hear me? How do I get you out of this thing?" Andee shouts. The pilot moves but is clearly disoriented. "Hey man I know you're hurt, but I don't know how to get you out of this thing."
"My, helmet. Can you..." A strange disembodied voice comes out of the bubble.
"You want your helmet off?"
"Twist. Help me twist..."
Andee reaches in with his left arm and helps the pilot twist off his helmet. It comes off. Andee looks at the man. He remembers the blond young guy from the vidrom, but the guy no longer looks the same. His face is puffy and he looks scared and stunned.
"They're dead. I... I can't get out." The pilot mumbles.
"The controls, I, I can't... I can't... open... I can't get out." The pilot is struggling to produce his words.
"This stuff is too strong, I can't break it." Andee responds knocking on the black but transparent polymer bubble. After failing again to split the capsule along it's crack he looks around flustered. He notices the broken shock absorbers inside the bubble. One piece is a meter long metal tube.
"Here, I'll try this." Reaching in he pulls the tube out and then uses it like a levering wedge to widen the split in the bubble. Andee yanks at it with all his force. There is a lout SNAP! and the bubble gives a little.
"There! It's working!" Andee shouts. Invigorated, he starts yanking with all his might. More snaps and cracks can be heard, and then a loud POP! and the bubble opens up about half a meter.
"Come on, I can get you out of here." Andee reaches in and grabs the pilot's left arm.
"Ahhh!" The pilot screams. "Let go! Let go!"
"OK-OK." Andee lets go and backs off.
"Something's not right. My... my chest, the... the pain... is unbearable."
"I'm sorry man, I was just trying to help."
"I know, I know. Is... a hopper coming?"
"God... damned!" The pilot responds annoyed, followed by a painful cough. "Ignorant Carpati." He groans out loud.
Andee stares at him perplexed, then takes a small step back.
"I'm... sorry man, I'm... I'm in a lot of pain. There's... something's wrong with my chest. Are there any rescue corps... climbing up... on foot?"
Leaning over his little outcrop, "Yeah, they are."
"God damned!" Struggling to voice his words through gritted teeth. "It's not... your fault man, I'm not mad... at you. You need to yell... yell at them. I can't."
"What? Why? I don't understand." Andee is shaking his head at the pilot baffled.
"You need to tell'em..." The pilot is struggling. Talking looks painful but he pushes through it grinning and cursing. "Tell'em to get a goddamn hopper... to me. You need... to yell... loud, make sure they hear you. Tell'em... I'm Ricio Brett, son of Brandberd Brett... if they don't send a hopper... this second, I'll have them all banished... by tonight. You hear me. Tell them... now!"
Andee's face is a vision of confusion. He clearly does not understand what this guy is talking about.
"Do it... now! Tell them!"
"OK, all right. I will. Uhm, so-ahh...OK-um-ahh... wait, what do you want me to say?" Andee is overwhelmed and confused. The pilot reacts shaking his head frustrated and annoyed but the pain forces him freeze in place.
"Listen. Just repeat... what I say... exactly what I say... and scream... loud. Got it?" Ricio forces the words through gritting teeth, clearly in pain.
"Yeah, sure, OK."
Ricio repeats himself and Andee relays the message word for word as it is told to him. Immediately he notices the rescue corps below turning and rushing back down.
"Hey, they're going back!" Andee reacts shocked.
"Good, they got the message."
"I don't understand. Don't you want to be rescued?'"
"That's... what where're doing. You... and the hoppers... are going to rescue me."
"Who are the hoppers?"
"You'll see. Can you... get me... out of this... stupid bubble. Just be careful... slower this time... my chest feels like it's... being ripped apart."
"Sure." And with that Andee gently tries to help Ricio rise to his feet on the chair, but the pilot immediately screams in pain.
"Stop-stop-stop! Something's wrong." Breathing heavily. "Help me... open my suit."
Andee helps undo the zipper pulling it down from the top of the left shoulder down to the pilot's right hip. He then lifts up the flap to reveal the chest. His former white linen undergarment is now saturated in crimson red with blood.
"Punk! Goddamn punk! My ribs... are probably broke... I'm bleeding all over... I'm going to punking die here. Damn! Why did I have to... show off! On my first race. Idiot! I'm so stupid."
"Hey, hey, calm down. You're just going to bleed worse if you get agitated, OK?" Andee tries to console him.
"You're right. Where... the hell... is that damn... hopper? How long does it take... to fly a couple of kilometers?"
Andee looks at the injured pilot confused. Has no idea how to respond.
"Are there any rescue corps down there?" Ricio suddenly asks.
Andee leans over the edge of the small rock outcrop he is on... "Nope. They're gone. I'm sorry but I don't understand why you sent them away. You're bleeding. If they don't get to you soon, you'll bleed to death. Why don't you want them to help you?"
Releasing a painful deep breath, and mumbling mostly to himself, but audibly; "Why the punk did I have to be rescued by a Carpati?"
Andee stares hard at Ricio in his capsule. Even bleeding and half dead, this Bitani has nothing but disdain for the man trying to rescue him simply because he is Carpati. He's been calm and collect, as Andee is most of the time, yet he can now feel a hint of rage bubbling in his veins. The thought even flashes through his head; 'Why am I helping this Bitani?'. Flustered, Andee looks away and stares out into the distance.
Ricio for the first time turns his head and gets a good look at Andee. He studies him for a moment.
"Hey man." Ricio calls out.
Andee, now with a glare as hard as stone, looks back at the pilot.
"My name is Ricio... and... and I'm sorry. I'm angry, I'm.... frustrated, in pain. I did this to myself, and you... you came here to help me. I'm sorry... for being a punk to you. You deserve the opposite."
Andee releases a deep breath. He is clearly surprised by Ricio's apology.
"OK. So what do we do now? I don't know how to help your injuries... and stop your bleeding."
"I know, and... that's OK, but... the dammed hopper... should have been here... by now. I don't understand... why they are not coming."
Andee leans over the edge again and looks down.
"The rescue corps are back! They're trying to climb up here. You'll be OK."
"No. Punk-faced sons of ghimurs!" Ricio yells irate, then groans in pain. "I can't believe... this bull. Are they seriously... not sending a hopper... for me? Do these idiots know... who my father is? This is unreal... They're going to let me die up here." Ricio laments becoming more and more despondent.
"Who are the hoppers? What can they do that the rescue corps can't?"
Ricio stares hard at Andee.
"You're a good guy. I'm glad... you're here to help me."
"But I can't help you. I don't know how to help you. I don't know anything. I don't know who the hoppers are. I don't know what to do. If I did, I would do it. I would help you. But I don't know anything." Andee all of sudden reacts frustrated, but mostly with himself. He feels inadequate, even dumb for not understanding, not knowing, what this pilot is saying, or even expecting from him.
"The hoppers are... they aren't they... they are it, machines."
Andee just stares at him without any change in expression.
"They're like lightships, but bigger, more complex,... can carry a lot of people, and... they don't just float... they can fly."
"What?" Is all Andee can say.
"Look... to the south edge... for the wall. There's a large... stone castle there. If a hopper was coming... it would be coming from there, from The Castle. Do you see one... flying this way?"
Andee looks up. He knows the wall Ricio is talking about, he's seen it many times, but he's never seen a flying machine anywhere near it, and there certainly isn't one there now.
"Uh, no, there's no flying machine." Andee than looks up over his head scanning the sky in a circle as if trying to follow the path of a fast flaying bat. "There's no flying machine anywhere." Andee continues looking back to Ricio.
"Without a hopper... I'm dead. It's... the only thing fast enough... to get me out of here. My chest... it's crushed... They're just going to leave me here... me... the son of... just so that the Carpati don't..." Ricio cuts himself off and closes his eyes.
"Hey, hey, don't close your eyes. Come on don't give up." Andee leans over and glances down over the edge. The rescue corps have made hardly any progress. They are struggling up the rocks. At the rate they're moving it will take them hours to get to the wreckage. "They're coming. They'll be here soon. Don't give up man. Stay awake and talk to me."
"God my chest hurts. My eyes... they're heavy."
"Talk to me man, talk to me. Tell me about the hoppers. Flying machines? That's amazing. I heard about them, but everyone says they're a myth like sacred warriors and light fairies and all that crap. Do you really have flying machines?"
"Yeah we do, but they stopped... using them as rescue corps... in the races years ago, before you were born... probably."
Andee looks at him half disbelieving.
"Why? If you have flying machines why not use them?"
"Apparently... some Carpati stole one... and caused mayhem, so they stopped... using them, and forced... the older Carpati.... to pretend they don't exist, or face banishment."
Andy shakes his head in disbelief. "But you still have them?"
"What do you use them for?"
"You know... I can't tell you.. what happens... up in the city."
"Why? I don't get it. Why? I've heard this all my life. But why? What's up there that us Carpati have to be so denied to know? If I knew those things, I could save you now. If I knew medicine like your doctors, I could help you. Why do you keep knowledge hidden from us? What are you afraid of?"
Ricio looks away with a sad disappointed look on his face. He doesn't know what to say. Frustrated, Andee does the same, looking over to the western edge of the Carpati township which is only partially visible.
"Can you... get me out of this capsule? I don't want... this to be my coffin." Ricio finally comments after a long break bringing Andee back around.
"But you're bleeding, you'll bleed more."
"What difference... does it make? I'd rather bleed out there."
"But I don't want to cause you do die. Maybe your hopper will come."
"They're... they're not coming. They don't... want you guys seeing one... I guess even if it means... I die, but I'm not dead yet. I'm sure... I have at least a half hour left in me. Maybe the corps... will get here in time."
"How do you know you have half an hour?" Andee suddenly perks up.
"I do. Now get me out of here."
"And if I move you, it won't kill you?"
"You mean... instantly? No man. Pull me out of here... I'll be fine... for a while."
"Half an hour?"
"Half an hour, an hour, sure. You going to help me... or interrogate me?" Ricio snaps at Andee through gritting teeth of pain.
"Yes, yes of course and I'll carry you down to the corps, maybe they can save you."
"What... what did you say?" Ricio suddenly stops his attempts to move and frowns at Andee.
"If its safe to get you out of the bubble, I can carry you down to the corps, in..." leans sideways to look down the cliff, "about ten minutes."
"No, not at all."
"Look... where we are. How are you... by yourself, going to get me... down with no gear?" Ricio replies with dismissive disbelief.
"How do you think I got here in the first place?"
Ricio quickly does a look-around spinning his head side to side ignoring the pain.
"Good point. How the hell... did you get here?"
"I climbed down from that outcrop." Andee answers pointing up to the stone platform high up above them.
"What? You're bulling me." Ricio looks shocked as he stares at the distant outcrop above.
"From all the way... up there? Where's your gear?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about. What's gear?"
"Of course you don't. You came all the way down... with no gear... from there?"
"I did. I've been climbing these rocks since before I could walk. I can climb anything. In fact, if it's any help, I'm the current Ghimpour champion."
"Ghimpour, I've... I've seen that. Quite cool actually. Very acrobatic... and athletic. And you really think... you can go down the rest of this mountain... with me on your back?"
"With my eyes closed."
"Well, if we're going to do this... I want your eyes open."
"Of course, it was just a figure of speech."
"I know. All right. I trust you... for some reason. If you say you can do it, I believe you. Now get me out of here... and I will owe you my life."
With that Andee starts helping Ricio out of the bubble. The Bitani is in pain, but refuses Andee's attempts at taking it easy.
"Get me the punk... out of here. I don't care... how bad it hurts." Ricio urges Andee on.
In less than a minute Ricio is out and on Andee's back. With his legs wrapped around Andee's waist, and arms around his neck, Ricio is secure. Andee gently starts doing his thing, but much slower and more calculated this time. The mountainside is now a rocky jagged slope, no longer a near sheer wall, but still a serious challenge to anyone. Yet even with another man on his back Andee moves sure and steady, from rock to rock, once again delivering an awe-inspiring sight. In less than fifteen minutes he delivers Ricio to the awaiting rescue corps who quickly rush the now passed out Ricio into a rescue lightship.
The morning sun is a long tall sliver of light glowing from behind the east flank of table mountain as it rises beyond it. Its soothing warm rays are massaging Andee's shirtless skin as he climbs higher in one of the berryfruit trees on the lower terrace of his home. The berryfruit trees aren't big, only between eight to ten meters tall. They have a center trunk that is nearly perfectly straight, like that of a palm. And like a palm, they have thick growth ridges about a palm wide, but on berryfruit trees it's one continuous spiral to the top. Starting at a man's height, about every half meter or so, a large branch grows horizontally out of the spiral. It gives the tree a spiraling staircase-like appearance. The lower branches are about two to three meters long, each ending with a huge broad leaf with many pointed ferns spread out like a fan. It's at the base of the leaves where the fist sized berryfruit grow in a linear bunch like berries on a vine. The branches get shorter and shorter towards the top where each new branch first grows vertically, then over time spirals out to its horizontal position as a new one grows above it. The young top half of the tree bears no fruit.
Like an acrobat, Andee is twirling, spinning, and leaping from branch to branch with astounding agility and skill. He is working, collecting berryfruit, yet his movements look more like a performance than labor, as he masterfully swings from branch to branch casually collecting the fruit and sliding them in his double-holstered satchels. The two Alcama leather bags hang from a broad belt around his waist like two giant leather pockets, over his leather patch-work pants. On his feet he's got the typical Carpati leather toe-moccasins made from soft felt leather with a firm Alcama-hoof sole that gives him both flexibility and great grip.
With his satchels full of fruit he swiftly hops to a lower branch, swings to one further below, and then bounces down to the ground as gentle as a feather, to protect the ripe fruit from being smashed. On the ground he empties each satchel into a large upright wicker basket. Done, he climbs back into the tree, but out of the corner of his eye, something catches his attention. He looks west. Sitting on the stone wall between their properties, his neighbor Nayaa is leaning against the upright stone wall of the upper terrace. She looks relaxed watching Andee pick fruit with a big smirk on her face.
"How long you been there?" Andee asks while squatting on the lowest branch.
He wipes the sweat off his brow and takes a chug of water, from the canister hanging off a small stump. Nayaa is still quietly watching him. Her bright green eyes are locked on Andee, and her cheeks are wide with a coy smile. She looks like she's up to something.
Ignoring her, Andee resumes picking fruit. A little while later Nayaa breaks the silence.
"You missed one." Pointing, wagging her index finger upward. Andee looks up. "Just a little higher." Nayaa nudges up with her hand, lackadaisically pointing to the very highest fruit in a teasing manner. Andee smirks with a twist of his lips. He seems both mildly amused and annoyed, but leaps up and quickly gets to the ripest fruit. He then swiftly bounces from branch to branch back down.
"Hey, how about that one?" She points wagging her finger and teasing Andee with a few lifts of her black eyebrows, pointing at the furthest fruit from Andee she could see. Andee squints his eyes at her with a touch of disdain, but with a couple of leaps reaches the exact fruit. Nayaa smiles pleased with herself, then swings her head tossing her beautiful wavy black hair against the wall of the upper terrace. She continues watching Andee swing like a feather light ghimur as he finishes collecting his fruit.
After emptying his satchels, he puts on his shirt, and looks back to Nayaa.
"You just gon'a sit there and watch? How about giving me a hand?"
"No, I'd rather sit and watch."
"Afraid you lost your edge? Can't compete with me anymore?"
"Nope. I got edge."
"So you're just gon'a sit there, and stare... from your edge?"
"Why? You never turn down a contest."
"I want to see what a hero looks like." She ends with a grin.
"Ha. OK, you heard."
"I did. So you really saved a pilot's life last night?"
Leaning against his full basket of fruit. "I did. So I already won the day, and it's barely started." Andee replies with a smirk and a smile.
"You won yesterday, and that's cuz I was taking a nap. Today is a new day."
"You should have come to the races. See what you miss out." Andee responds looking at her lounging on that stone fence. She's wearing her skin tight Ghimpour practice pants and her dark brown toe-moccasins which are held on by cross straps all the way up her calf. Around her hips she has a broad belt with two satchels over her thighs, similar to the ones Andee is wearing, but smaller, and more intricately decorated. She's got a small body hugging top, like a sports-bra, under a short jacket. Her top is made of diagonally cross-weaved black linen strips forming a V-shape neckline, and V-shaped openings for her arms. Her upper back and shoulders are covered by a standard Carpati double-caped jacket. Made from dark, felt leather strips, it's cross-weaved like the top, so that the perforated long sleeves allow air through, but not sunlight. The jacket is short, leaving her stomach exposed, but her back is covered by a draping cape. Over it, and behind the shoulders, hangs a flat stiff hood over the cape. The main cape isn't too long either, and loose, only reaching down to her broad belt, ending with an oval cut at the bottom. The stiff upper hood is also oval from shoulder to shoulder. When lifted up overhead, the stiff flat top provides shade from the bright sun. The underside of the flat top has a hidden layer of finely meshed cloth that can be pulled down over the face during sandstorms. The flat top is held up by two broad ribbons of dark cloth on each side connecting it to the shoulders, some distance from the head. When up and looking face on, the flat ribbons are barely visible allowing for an open flow of air around the head, but seen side on, the ribbons are broad and look like a single dark hood with a flat top.
"That's exactly why I don't go to the races. I hate to see people get hurt, or worse, die in those silly crashes."
"No risk no reward."
"And what's your reward for saving that guy's life?"
"He better give you something. You know who he is?"
"His name is Ricio Brett."
"I heard he is the son of some big shot up in the city."
"Yeah that's what I heard too, and I believe it."
"You should have seen his lightship. It was amazing."
"It really was the most amazing lightship I've ever seen. I still can't believe he crashed it. If I had a lightship like that, I'd be afraid to touch it, too scared that I might scratch it."
"If I had a lightship like that, I'd leave this place and explore the rest of the world. What kind of amazing things do you think exist beyond these wretched desserts? I bet there really are other cities out there."
"What makes you think there is anything out there?"
"There has to be."
"I don't know... but I know it."
"That makes sense." Andee replies sarcastically.
"Ha. You know what I mean. You know when you have that feeling, that sense where you just know. You get that too, I know, I've seen it."
"Then my sense tells me there's nothing but dessert all the way around this planet."
"I don't think so. I think you're wrong."
"So who's sense is right then?"
"Mine, cuz you don't care. Plus, you're the one who told me there's other cities." Nayaa gently rolls her eyes, while Andee smirks. "You're happy here, pretending you hate the Bitani. I bet you'd be happy living your whole life here, picking berryfruit, working in Old Man Tom's junkyard until you're as old as he is, and getting drunk watching the races. You could be happy with a life like that, but not me. I'm going to leave this place one day, and find what's out there." Nayaa continues driving her point home with confidence.
"You're a funny little girl."
"Punk face, I'm seventeen. I'm a woman now." She snaps up from her lazy lounging pose to an up-tight sitting position.
"Ha, a woman. You'll be seventeen next week. You're still a little girl."
"You're a jerk." Folds her arms and tosses her back into the wall.
"If you're a woman than come help me lift this basked onto my back."
"For being rude."
"I wasn't rude. Your birthday is next week. Till then you're still sixteen. That's truth, not rude."
"Fine. I won't help you. I'll just watch you struggle. Poor little boy... can barely lift a basket of fruit.... because he isn't a man yet. Just a little sixteen year old boy." Nayaa mocks him displeased.
"Seventeen, and you know it. You threw my birthday party, moths ago." Andee smiles. "I know what you're doing and it won't work. You can't rattle me... little girl." Andee finishes his statement with a mocking pout.
Furious, Nayaa jumps off the wall into her yard, grabs a little stone, and throws it at Andee but he swiftly swings out of the way avoiding it.
"Weak. You throw like a little girl."
"OK, fine!. I'll show you what this girl can do." Nayaa replies and squats down behind the wall, and gathers all the rocks she can. Andee calmly looks through his basket and picks out the ripest, reddest, biggest berryfruit he can find. He gently tosses the fist sized fruit up in the air, then catches it, and gently bounces it in his hand judging its mass and softness. He looks past the wall. Nayaa starts rising. Andee quickly launches the berryfruit with an expert toss. Nayaa's head rises up from behind the wall, and... BAM! The fleshy ripe fruit smashes into her forehead squishing and squirting juice and soft white pulp all over her face.
Nayaa freezes in mid motion, hunched forward, her eyes round as rolls from shock and awe.
"You... you... Punk!" And she hurls her fist full of stones at Andee. Then grabs more from her left hand and starts pelting him.
"Am I throwing like a girl now?" Girl or not, Nayaa can throw. She is quick, agile, accurate and mad. She nails Andee with almost every single toss. He leaps away and abandons the basket swiftly running up the center stone stairs to the next level terrace. Equally agile, Nayaa leaps over the wall while at the same time tossing her last stones, but then bounds to the basket, grabs a ripe berryfruit, and then following Andee swiftly leaps up the stairs.
Andee slams the door locking himself in the house. Andee's mother is to the right of the door, by the kitchen sink, cleaning some jars.
"What are you doing?" Mom asks looking over her shoulder.
"Nothing." Andee responds with his back against the door, forcibly holding it closed. Suddenly loud banging forces the door to shake in its frame, and bounce against Andee's back.
"Open up! Open up little boy! I've got some delicious fruit for you." Nayaa's muffled voice permeates through the wooden the door.
"Is that Nayaa?" Mom turns and looks at Andee with his back against the door.
"Yeah, she's crazy."
"I don't know what you two are up to but you need to stop it."
Nayaa is still banging on the door teasing 'the little boy' with fruit. Andee's holding it forcefully shut.
"Andee, didn't you hear me. Get away from the door and let her in." Mom snaps at him.
"I can't, she's crazy. She's trying to hit me with berryfruit."
"Now why would she do that?" Andee just shrugs his shoulders. "If you're not going to let her in I will." And with that Andee's Mom places the jar she was drying down, rushes up and pushes him out of the way, to which Andee gives and steps aside. Mom grabs the handle and opens the door. At that instant a hand with a berryfruit flies directly at her face, but manages to stop a bare centimeter from Mom's nose. Nayaa's eyes once again go round as rolls while her jaw drops.
"Oh God! Sorry-sorry-sorry, I'm so sorry Ms. Star. I though it was Andee. Sorry, so sorry. I didn't mean to..."
"Whatever you two are doing, not with my fruit. That's credits. Either eat it, or save it for the market, but don't play childish games. You're both young adults now. Act like it."
"Ha!" Nayaa snaps a hard satisfied look to Andy. "Listen to your mom." Then looking back to her. "You know Ms. Star, I was just telling him that, to grow up and be mature, well... that's when he hit me in the face with a berryfruit."
"Andee, you didn't hit her in the face did you?" Mom looks disapprovingly to Andee.
"It wasn't my fault, she was throwing rocks at me."
With big innocent eyes, Nayaa is vigorously shaking her head, "No" as Mom turns to look at her.
"Seriously, both of you need to grow up. Andee?"
"Did you finish picking all the ripe fruit?"
"Then don't waste any more time. I want you to take them to market now, and don't come back until you sold them all."
"Ms. Star, lets be honest. We both know Andee couldn't give them away for free if he tried. But don't worry, I'll sell them for you. I'm going with him."
"No you're not." Andee replies sternly.
"I don't want you to."
"What difference does that make?" Nayaa scoffs at him dismissively.
"Great. Just what I need. An unpaid babysitting job."
Nayaa grits her teeth and stomps her right foot. "I'm going to annoy you all day for that."
"OK, that's enough." Mom jumps in. "Nayaa, you know I can't pay you to help him sell fruit."
"I don't need help." Andee protests loudly.
"Quiet boy. Adults are talking business here." Nayaa retorts dismissively at Andee. "Don't worry Ms. Star. You don't have to pay me. I'm doing it because I'm mature... and I want to help your little boy here learn how to grow up and be a man." Ending her statement with a hard cocky look to Andee.
Andee is both rolling his eyes and shaking his head as he turns away.
"OK, but you two better behave."
"Me?" Nayaa feigns exaggerated shock. "I'm the mature one. I always behave."
This time it's Ms. Star who rolls her eyes as she walks away.
With a quick turn and intense look to Andee. "Ha, I win."
"Day's not over yet."
Ricio is attached to a futuristic looking respirator in a beautiful white spotless hospital room. Its walls are lined with large rectangular, near translucent glossy tiles. One wall has huge vertical windows, from ceiling to ground, with long drapes gently flowing in a breeze. There is no glass or apparent window frames just the opening overlooking a beautiful white sandy beach. The water in the nearby lagoon is crystal clear, azure blue, and the hills around the lagoon are covered in green vegetation. Palms and ferns of all kinds, swaying in the gentle warm breeze.
The automatic doors silently slide open on the opposite wall. A female doctor walks in along with the bearded man from the vidrom pictures just before the race.
"Why is it so hot in here?" The bearded man asks.
"It's the standard temperature we keep for recovering patients." The doctor responds.
"Can you please change the atmosphere to something cooler. We are Bretts, we don't tolerate this kind of heat."
"Yes of course Governor." She responds and turns to the glossy white wall by the entrance. When she touches one of the large tiles it turns into a light display like a computer screen. She touches some of the digital display buttons and the exterior changes. The former tropical atmosphere and warm breeze fade into a green Alpine view with snow capped mountains in the distance. The breeze changes from warm to a gentle cool, still flowing through the open 'windows' and fluttering the drapes.
"How is he?" The Governor asks the doctor as she steps back up next to him.
"He is doing very well Governor Brett. We repaired all the damage successfully, and he should heal without any scarring or complications."
"Good. How long?"
"A couple of weeks, and he should be fine."
"Why so long?"
The doctor slightly taken aback responds with a frown. "His internal injuries were quite severe. He had a punctured lung, nine broken ribs, bruised liver, but worst of all, a severed artery. Had he been exposed out there only minutes longer he would have died. He was fortunate to be found by that boy. If not..."
"I know, I saw the footage." Governor Brett responds dismissively interrupting the doctor. "How long before he is awake and speaking?"
"Four to five days at least."
"That's too long. I need to nip this in the bud now."
"I'm sorry Governor, but we are dealing here with a literally broken heart. Until that torn artery is perfectly healed he can't move."
"I understand, I understand. I'm just concerned what he may have said to that boy. He could be dangerous."
"Politics aren't my game, but Governor, I think you're misdirecting your energy. I think you should be grateful not suspicious. Your son is here, alive, and soon to be well because of that boy."
"Doctor, you've done great work, and I appreciate that, but keep your opinions to yourself." The Governor shuts her down with the cockiness and arrogance of a well healed politician.
"He is in good hands here, but now I will leave you with you son." And the doctor, clearly displeased, briskly turns away and rushes out of the room.
The Governor stands over his son's bed staring at his unconscious and injured body lying under a series of very clean and futuristic machines.
It's a busy market down in the Flatlands. There are rows and rows of stalls, some built in, some makeshift out of the back of alcama drawn wooden wagons, and some no more than a wooden table under an umbrella. Between each row of stalls there are broad dusty paths with people milling back and forth. Andee and Nayaa are behind one of the wooden tables selling their fruit under the shade of stiff and flat wicker umbrella atop a metal pole.
"That's a woman." Andee blurts out pointing to the right with his chin.
"Her? She's an old lady." Nayaa responds disapprovingly.
"I don't even think she is 25. An old lady. You're pathetic." Andee counters shaking his head.
"Please, she's shorter than me, and look how skinny she is. You just like her because she's blond. You've got a thing for blond girls."
"No I don't."
"What about her?"
"Oh don't even pretend you didn't have a massive crush on her?"
"I'm not pretending."
"So you admit you did."
"What's your point?"
"She was blond. And tall. And yeah she was beautiful, but... Never mind."
"What were you going to say?"
Nayaa twirls her mouth seemingly in a struggle to make a decision. "And older."
"She was a senior when I was a freshman. Of course she was older."
"Why do you like older girls?"
"Then how come all the girls you like are older?"
"What are you talking about? She's the only one."
"And the love your life?"
"Oh God, you're a lunatic. I thought you came here to sell fruit. You haven't sold one, but you keep badgering me about stupid things."
"She was older, and you were together for a year."
"A week for heaven's sake! She is a week older than me. You're nuts. I'm not talking about this any more."
"Fine. Why she dump you?"
"I said I'm not talking about this any more."
"We're not. We're talking about something else, you being dumped."
"How about we talk about your boyfriend?"
"I don't have one."
"I wonder why."
Nayaa folds her arms with force and frowns. She scoots away from Andee near the edge of their table. Their fruit is nicely displayed in front of them and well shaded by the wicker umbrella. The market is busy, with people milling about back and forth, but no one is buying any fruit. And with Nayaa's angry glare she's guaranteeing none will be sold at all.
"Uh-uh-uh, I just had a genius though!" Nayaa suddenly and excitedly speaks up as she scoots, hopping back up next to Andy.
"What oh-oh? You don't know what it is yet."
"It's one of your... thoughts, that's what."
"When have I ever had a bad one?"
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
"OK, shut up and learn... little boy." She throws off her jacket, then without warning, she leaps, grabbing the metal post of the umbrella, and uses it like a pole-vault to jump over their fruit display with acrobatic agility. She lands on her feet and instantly rolls into several cartwheels to a small oval water fountain on the other side of the path. With her last cartwheel she leaps off her arms and lands on her feet, onto the raised ledge of the decorative fountain.
"People, people, take a moment, take a break! Take a breather and let me entertain you!" She yells at the people milling about in the market, and then leaps off the ledge into a front flip landing on her squatted right leg, with the left one stretching out ahead. She then rolls sideways into a handstand, spins 360 on one hand, then bridging her back lands on her feet rising back upright, all in one move. The people around stop and watch.
She then dives sideways onto her outstretched arms and tumbles several times to a man with a tall walking staff in his hand. She ends her tumbling run facing him.
"May I?" She asks the man reaching out her right hand. He nods and hands her his staff. She cartwheels back to the center of the growing crowd using the staff rather than her hands. Back on her feet, she flips and twirls the staff like an expert, around her waist, over her head, over and under her arms, spinning it around her body like a hula-hoop. After about a minute or so, she throws it in the air. It rotates once than lands on one end, and when it does, it just stands there perfectly balanced. The crowd applauds.
She kicks it gently and the staff begins to fall, but just before it hits the ground horizontal, she swiftly kicks it in the center, sending it up, still perfectly horizontal, high up into the air. At the moment it stops rising, just before it starts falling back, Nayaa bolts forward at full speed to the nearby fountain, and in one swift move leaps of its ledge, up into the air, but diving backwards like an Olympic high jumper, and catches the staff in her teeth. Continuing her backwards momentum, she flips over and lands on her feet kneeling, now facing the fountain. She is on her left knee with the staff in her mouth as she does a simple bow with her head and an outward flick with her wrists. The growing crowd roars with cheers and applause.
She again balances the staff on the ground on one end, and lets it stand free for a moment, than leaps onto it as if it's a grounded pole. Instead of falling, she somehow balances herself on this free standing stick. She climbs as high as she can on it, still maintaining her balance. At the top she turns on her side by gripping the very tip with her right hand, and a half a meter below with her left. She stretches her body out until she is rigid and horizontal with the ground, and balancing on the tip of that wooden staff forming a T shape. She is leaning with her bare stomach against the top of the staff with her horizontal weight on her arms only. Her muscles are noticeably shaking from the strain of holding herself in this difficult and almost impossible position, while also balancing herself on a stick. But she holds on and then slowly stars to spin like a spinning top. The crowd is dead silent, jaws dropped, in disbelief at what they are seeing.
But Nayaa is not done. Her spinning picks up speed, and her legs begin to spread apart forming various shapes with her body as the spinning increases. She now looks like a wobbling pinwheel, and almost a blur she is spinning so fast, when suddenly she leaps up, tumbles in air before landing on her feet, while the staff flies the opposite direction and falls to the feet of the man she got it from.
The crowd roars in cheers. Nayaa tries to take a bow but stumbles as if drunk. A couple of guys rush up to help her, but she flips forward landing into a bow, then suddenly rises up flicking her arms up and out in the air like a gymnast after a routine, and similes, stopping the running guys in their track.
"Did you like my show?" She asks the crowd with a big smile on her face between her heavy breaths.
Everyone cheers in agreement. She then quickly points to Andee.
"Look at my little brother. Doesn't he look sad. He's a bit jovial in the head, and a real headache to our mom. I'm here to sell fruit, and raise money for our family, and help my jovial little brother. So please folks, if you enjoyed my show, for which I practiced so hard, please, please, buy fruit from my sad jovial little brother so we can take some measly credits home tonight. Thank you for your generosity and I hope you enjoyed my show."
Half the crowd leaves, but the rest line up at Andee's stall. Nayaa sits by the fountain and coyly splashes a few drops on her face to cool herself off after her hard work. Andee is swarmed. People are buying fruit by the bag loads.
Ten minutes later, the stall is empty. All the fruit is sold. Nayaa finally returns from the fountain.
"So, what do you think little brother?"
Andee can't help but smile. "Where did you learn the tricks with the stick? I don't remember those moves from our stick fighting practice."
"Just made them up."
"Just like that."
"Uh-hm." She nods satisfied and proud.
"No seriously, where did you learn that?"
"You go to the races, I practice. Practice makes perfect, don't you know?" She smiles with a quick wink, and then continues. "Plus, it's the same stuff we've been doing up in your berryfruit trees for years." As she grabs her jacket and puts it back on.
"Not exactly. You were really good, I have to admit. Its one thing to do those tricks in a tree, planted in the ground, but I don't think I could do it on a free standing stick like that."
"Of course you couldn't. I'm better than you." Ending her statement with a toothy grin.
"You might be, you might just be." Andee responds smiling in agreement.
"I know I am. Can little girls do what I did?"
"What?" Andee's mood suddenly changes back to annoyed. "Even after all this, you're still stuck on that? OK fine, no, little girls can't do that. But you're still not a woman."
"I'm a young woman."
"OK young woman, lets get out of here."
"How much did you get?"
"What? No way."
"Yeah. This is double what that basket of fruit was worth." Holding up the paper credits.
"Wow. I didn't realize they were going to do that. That's our money. Put your mom's half away and lets go spend the rest. Woo-hoo!" Nayaa hops in place excited.
"Yeah, we could do that. I haven't had credits to spend in a long time. There's a few things I could buy, for sure." Andee nods liking the idea.
"Uh-uh-uh, I just had a genius though!" Nayaa suddenly triples her excitement, and leans into Andee's face.
"Oh, not again."
"Noooo-h, no way."
"Oh yeah, its on, we're going."
"No we're not. We're too young. You've got to be 18 to get in."
"Oh please! You're so sheltered. Drop a few credits to the bouncer and he'll let us in. Plus we both look older anyway."
"We're not dressed for it."
"Like you have prave clothes at home. To think of it, neither do I. Woo-hoo, lets go buy some."
"Hold your alcamas there little... I mean young woman. We've got a decent amount of credits, but by no means are we rich. If we buy clothes, and other stuff, we won't have much left for the prave. So what's it going to be?"
"We only need enough to bribe the bouncers. I have no intention of buying drinks, or smoking cactii--punk that. That stuff will make your brain go jovial and leave you stuck there, in jovial-land that is."
"Then why do you want to go if you know how messed up it can be?"
"Prave's aren't about drinking and smoking. Only dumbasses do that. It's about the music, the light show, and it's about dancing. I want to dance!" And she starts twisting and wagging her hips in a little impromptu dance.
"Yeahhhh... that's actually what I'm not looking forward to."
Nayaa stops her hip gyrations and leans forward staring at Andee with exaggerated shock. "Are you serious? You don't want to dance?"
"Doesn't appeal to me. It kind'a scares me to be honest. I've never done it before."
"So. Just use your Ghimpour moves like I did in the market. Ghimpour on a stick. Ever heard of that before?"
With a laugh. "Nope, definitely not."
"I just made it up from the moves I already know. That's what dancing is, but a lot simpler. You already know a lot of moves, just do them to the beat and make the rest up as you go. Let the music move you."
"Alright, now I'm intrigued. I've always been curious. Plus, I heard Bitani kids like to come down and hang out there. We'll give it a shot."
And Nayaa leaps into Andee's arms giving him a big hug. "But first food. I'm starving." She comments as she jumps away.
Andee picks up the empty basket and throws it on his back the way it is supposed to be carried, like a backpack, and they head off through the market.
"Oh, we forgot to split the money." Andee stops suddenly.
"Yeah lets do it now before we spend it all, and really piss off your mom."
Andee reaches into his right satchel and pulls out a leather credit fold. As his hand exits, 'whoosh' the weight in it vanishes. It takes him a microsecond to realize it happened.
"Hey!" And then he rapidly turns around. A skinny guy is running as fast as an alcama down the main path between all the vegetable and fruit stands. "He stole the money!" Andee stunned snaps at Nayaa. They both take off after the skinny thief.
He's fast. Both Nayaa and Andee are top athletes, but this guy is ridiculously fast, and agile. The market is busy with people milling everywhere, yet thief maneuvers around them with great skill. He is actually gapping a distance between himself and Nayaa and Andee.
"We're losing him!" Andee shouts as he rolls his shoulders tossing off his basket leaving it to fall behind him in the crowd.
"He's going for the back of the market." Nayaa shouts.
"We'll lose him in those alleys and warehouses." Andee counters.
The man is fast but the crowd is getting thicker. It slows him down. He looks back and sees his pursuers gaining. He seems to panic for a second. He looks at the buildings to his left. It's the beginning of a long structure made of many adobe row houses. They are mostly similar, but with varying roof heights, some with balconies, some not, and all have either flat or domed roofs. Most are two stories, some three, and most have a veranda feature at the first floor, forming stalls where people are selling their goods. The buildings look to be connected all the way the length of the main alley to the back of the market. The first building has a solid awning supported by round columns with arches running from one to the next. The skinny guy rushes to a column and quickly climbs it, gets on top, and then starts running on the awning, than onto a balcony, and from there to one of the roofs.
Andee is first to the edge of the building where a farmer is selling vegetables out of an alcama cart. The alcama is tied to a two meter tall wooden post, about a meter away from the awning, which is about three meters high. Without losing a beat, Andee leaps with his left foot up on the wheel of the cart. From there he propels himself into a dive directly towards the alcama. His arms land on animal's shoulders, while his momentum pushes him up into a handstand, and then beyond, somersaulting off his arms, and landing into a squat on top of the post, but still moving forward from the momentum. He leaps onto the awning and lands in a roll over. Still in motion, he rolls up onto his feet and runs after the man without losing a beat. Nayaa does exactly the same with equal skill and agility, a fraction of second before the alcama realizes what's happening and begins to buck and jump startled.
The skinny thief is now forced to leap over walls, balconies most filled with stored junk, and onto roofs, all of which vary in height and shape. On the ground he was fast, but these obstacles slow him down considerably.
On the other hand, these obstacles seem to turbo charge both Nayaa and Andee. Like leaping ghimurs, the two friends are masters of their obstacle course. They flip, skip, and tumble from feet to hands, and back onto their feet, without ever losing a beat. It's almost a game for them, and a treat to see. They are free running over the obstacles as if they weren't even there, and quickly gain on the skinny thief, when he suddenly rounds a wall to the left on the next roof, right out of sight.
Andee reaches the wall first. There's a large recessed door in it. Ahead, the building comes to an end. Nayaa comes to a hard stop, tip-toes over the edge. She looks down into the alley. They are on the roof of a three story building when suddenly...
"There, there he goes." Nayaa yells pointing down. "He ran out of a door from the side of the building."
"The door! It's a staircase." Andee is about to lunge into the recess.
"I'm jumping. I can brace from the next roof and that ledge." Nayaa points to the two story lower building across the alley.
"OK, good idea. But you stick to the roofs, I'll jump down." Andee changes direction and immediately leaps past Nayaa. He jumps from the third story roof, across the gap, landing on the side of the second story wall, hanging on from the top ledge with just his fingers. Nayaa immediately lands after him, but up on the ledge, just between Andee's hands, and takes off in one fell swoop. Andee hanging from his fingers, with his feet planted on the wall, swings, pushing with his feet to the right, and lands on a protruding ledge at the top of a first floor window, then instantly bouncing off of it, he flips sideways to land on his feet on the ground, followed by an immediate run. Andee's now running back into the crowd of the market following the skinny man's path.
This part of the market is even more crowded. The thief struggles as he bumps into person after person. Andee is more eloquent and elegant. He twists and twirls, even spins with one girl as if dancing with her, to move her out of the way without harm. The next person he leaps right over, startling the poor guy, and now he has the thief in his sights. Andee maxes out his running speed. He is now a meter behind the thief. Andee leaps, and with his right arm forcefully shoves the man forward, from center back. The thief, running at full speed, is hurdled forward faster than he can move, and starts stumbling with his momentum too great he falls face first into the dirt. At full speed he hits the dusty ground hard, sliding forward about a meter. Andee himself at full speed, leaps up in the air somersaulting with an 180 twist over the man on the ground, to land facing him from the other side, just past his head.
The commotion quickly creates an encircling crowd. Nayaa is on the roof coming to a stop. She casually jumps down onto a balcony, flips over the rail onto a flag pole, drops nonchalant to her hands on the pole, and gently swings down leaping to the ground. She politely excuses herself through the crowd as she casually makes her way.
The thief is severely dazed, but struggling, eager to get up. As he looks up, he is face to face with Andee, squatting on one knee in front of him.
"Hey, idiot! Give my credit-fold back, and I'll walk away. If you don't, I'll start breaking your bones one by one." Andee threatens the man emphasizing his point with a gentle knuckle crack against the side of the skinny man's head.
"OK-OK, give me a minute." The man groans, spitting sand as he speaks.
"Now!" Andee snaps at him.
The man reaches down to his waist, but then suddenly throws his arm out tossing a fistful of fine dust into Andee's face. Andee spins to shield himself, covering his eyes with his forearm as he leaps to his feet. The man jumps up and bolts into the crowd past Andee. Nayaa squeezes between the last few people to head after the guy. Andee quickly spins back in the direction where the skinny man ran, but as he does, out of the corner of his eye... 'there he is' ...he catches a glimpse of the same man in the blue hood from the day before. He is right there, at the front edge of the crowd. Instead of continuing his motion, and bolting off the spot after the skinny man, Andee forcefully turns back against his own momentum, and takes a blind-awkward step backwards right into Nayaa's path, who's trying to rush past him, knocking into her forcing her sideways. She has to somersault with a 360 twist to land on her feet from the impact, and barely does so in a low squat. Andee on the other hand falls awkwardly on his side. Nayaa gives Andee a quick stunned look, but with no time to waste, she leaps to her feet and continues on her way. Andee flashes his eyes back to the spot in the crowd where he saw the man in blue. The crowd is thick, but no one in a blue robe. As quick as he can, Andee jumps to his feet. The impact with Nayaa was hard. He is a bit dazed and his leap up makes him even more dizzy. It doesn't matter, he focuses again on the spot in crowd where... 'and there he is, the man in blue!' He is turned sideways watching Nayaa running through the crowd.
"You!" Andy yells at the hooded man and leaps towards him.
End of Chapter 2
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